Once upon a time, black jockeys ruled the Kentucky Derby. From 1875 to 1902, black jockeys won fifteen titles — they were the country's best riders following the Civil War — but when Jim Crow segregation laws were implemented, black riders weren't allowed near the racetracks. Only four black jockeys have even competed in the Derby in the last 111 years.
This May 4, Kevin Krigger hopes to ride to victory in the Kentucky Derby and make some history of his own. Krigger grew up around horses in the U.S. Virgin Islands, starting with an impromptu ride when he was only 5-years-old.
"In the Virgin Islands, horses are pets, like dogs or cats in the U.S.," he said. "Our neighbors didn't know I'd be taking theirs for a ride. My great-grandfather saw me fly past him and couldn't believe it."
When he rode Goldencents for the first time, Krigger won the race by seven lengths, just missing a track record. But at the wire, he stood up in the saddle and pointed at the crowd — missing the record by one hundredth of a second. This sudden success instilled in Krigger a determination to win it all.
Krigger and Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, which essentially captured them a spot in the Run for the Roses. By winning this race, Krigger became the first African American to win the Santa Anita Derby — a good omen for the upcoming Kentucky Derby.
"It was always a dream to go to the Kentucky Derby and it's nice to be going with a horse like Goldencents," he said. "I feel pretty confident that we're going to win. I feel this is by fate not just because of the ability of a horse like Goldencents and not because I'm African American, but I think we're going to win the Triple Crown and make some history."
Surprisingly, Krigger has never even been to the Kentucky Derby, even as a spectator. He said this is because he wanted to be a jockey when he went for the first time, that it would make the experience more special for him.
"I always felt like a big-circuit rider," he said. "Goldencents is the proof in the pudding."
The Kentucky Derby takes place on May 4 at around 6:24 P.M. (EST), with NBC covering the event from 4-7 P.M.